isabel garvey abbey road

Abbey Road Studios wants to recruit more teams with women founders to its Abbey Road Red startup accelerator, according to the studios’ MD Isabel Garvey.

“We are acutely aware that we have no female founders, and very few women in our founder teams, and we are trying to be a little more diverse,” said Garvey, in her introduction at Abbey Road’s latest startup-demo event.

“If you know talented women running [music/tech] businesses, or looking to run businesses, send them our way.”

Abbey Road Red’s newest recruit, AI-music startup LifeScore, does have a female co-founder, COO, Chris Walch. In his presentation at the event last night, CEO Philip Sheppard also pointed out that three quarters of his company’s advisory board are women.

Still, Garvey is keen to build on this, pointing to the women participating at Abbey Road’s recent hackathon as encouragement. “20% of the hackathon were women, which was really reassuring, but we’re not seeing it at the founder level,” she said.

The event saw Abbey Road Red startups HumTap, Lickd, Cotodama and BroomX pitch, alongside LifeScore – Music Ally has already reported on the presentations by Sheppard and co-founder Tom Gruber here.

Garvey hailed “a really diverse cohort” (in terms of technology): “We have everything from a business that’s creating a new business model for content creators and how they sync their music; to taking VR out of the goggles and into a room environment,” she said.

“We’ve got two businesses looking at AI – one is composition-driven, and one is looking at generative composition. And finally lyric technology: looking at how we can make more of lyrics in both the physical and virtual space. It’s a remarkable bunch of founders and people.”

Abbey Road Red is also the umbrella brand for the studios’ internal innovation. Garvey promised that it will unveil a new technology “taking spatial audio into the headphone, which is harder than it sounds” towards the end of 2019.

karim fanous abbey road red

Karim Fanous, formerly of Music Ally but now a year in to his role as innovation manager at Abbey Road Red, outlined some of the trends that the accelerator sees in the music/tech startups world.

It is running a research project to categorise the startups that it encounters – not just those accepted for Red, but all the companies that the accelerator’s team meets and auditions – to understand what technologies are proving popular.

According to figures shared by Fanous at the demo-day event, 20.7% of the 150 startups included in the research were using AI in some form: the biggest single category ahead of fan engagement (11.3%) and artist discovery (10.7%).

Personalisation (7.3%), Immersive AR/VR (6.7%) and Blockchain (also 6.7%) have also been prominent, although Fanous stressed that this is a snapshot of “what we’re seeing come to us” rather than, necessarily, the overall music/tech startups world.

(The research is ongoing, so these are early numbers: Abbey Road will be publishing the final research in the coming weeks.)

Fanous outlined three trends that he expects to hear a lot more from in the next year.

“The first thing we are thinking about is collaborative AI: this ‘humanistic’ AI. How can artificial intelligence platforms collaborate with humans?” he said.

“We’ve explored generative composition: HumTap are doing amazing things from a consumer perspective. But what about an artist perspective? I think we’re going to see a lot more of that this year. We think adaptive music is going to have a very strong showing, and LifeScore will hopefully be leading the charge on that.”

Fanous’ second trend, with apologies to Spinal Tap, was “turning the efficiency of the value chain up to 11”. He talked about the tools that have emerged in recent years for musicians, songwriters and producers to create metadata for songs and recordings at their earliest stages.

“But when you ask engineers about this, they say ‘I’m really busy! It’s a great idea, but I’m really busy’. But what if AI could tag it for you?” said Fanous.

“You as a musician have a sonic signature; the AI scans the track or the stem as it’s being recorded, and tags it for you with the metadata. Not only will full tracks generate more value down the line, but we will be able to enter more interesting spaces using remixes and stems.”

Fanous’ third trend was voice activation, although he admitted that thus far, only 2% of the startups that Abbey Road Red has encountered have been focused on this area.

“It’s a hot topic, but we’re not seeing a lot of innovation in our goggles at Abbey Road Red. That’s probably because it’s a walled garden at the moment, with the voice-activation platforms and hardware systems. But we’re wondering if we’re going to see a bit of a blossoming of that.”

Fanous also offered some advice for startups hoping to catch his eye over the next year, including his desire for original thought and “eureka moments” backed by genuine substance.

“We see a lot of copycattish technology products, and a lot of the time, we feel like they are copying bad ideas to start with. It’s the worst possible thing you could do,” he said.

Fanous also warned startups to tone down their rhetoric targeting music-industry rightsholders – Abbey Road, remember, is owned by Universal Music Group.

“Don’t go to rightsholders and say ‘I’m going to fix you, I’m going to fix your industry’,” he said. “Go and learn, talk to them and learn about the problems from the inside. Don’t be condescending in the approach.”

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